May Be the Company Bourdain Keeps

September 13, 2011

By Karen

Once again, Anthony Bourdain was nominated for an Emmy, for Outstanding Writing on No Reservations: Haiti, only to lose to some guy named Stanley Nelson who wrote Freedom Riders for PBS.

No Res did take home the statue for best Cinematography (well-deserved and Congratulations!), but lost as Best Nonfiction Series to American Masters on PBS.

Maybe it’s just me, but are you beginning to see a pattern here? Could it be that Tony’s getting no respect because being Travel Channel’s “biggest star” is a dubious achievement? After all, he’s shining among such stellar programming as Truck Stop Missouri, Man v. Food Nation, Mancations, Sand Castles, Ghost Adventures, and Bizarre Foods.

Bourdain has just been named a consulting editor who will acquire 3-5 books a year for for his publisher, HarperCollins, under the Ecco imprint (check out the new logo). Presumably, he’ll also be writing for Season 3 of Treme, and that chef he had working for all his NYC buddies in Season 2 will stop being irrelevant and return to New Orleans.

Bourdain’s career seems to be taking a decidedly literary turn, so he may have to stop treating his writing so dismissively. No longer playing that balls-and-bug-eating Andrew Zimmern’s role model can only be a good thing.

On September 11, Tony did a relaxed, beer-fueled 2 ½-hour podcast with Joe Rogan. Among many things, Tony said he still wants to go to the Congo, but Mozambique is in the cards sooner.

Finally, in the Tony’s Friends Department…

Marge Simpson dreams of being on Top Chef in The Simpsons’ season premier on September 25, and Tom Colicchio makes an appearance. No word on Padma.

And I read this insightful opinion piece at SeaCoastOnline.com about celebrity chefs who pretend to be actors.


A Case of Bourdain Burnout

July 11, 2011

By Karen

My waning interest in Bourdainia has been a long time coming. Travel Channel stomped on my last nerve with this one-and-a-half-page ad in Entertainment Weekly for the new Cuba episode of No Reservations, which airs tonight…

Season premiere? Season 8? What happened to Season 7, which disappeared after 8 episodes nearly 3 months ago? Was Tony’s trip to Haiti just filler?

And what’s suddenly so fucking special about Cuba? Andrew Zimmern was there for the first episode of Bizarre World — in 2009. Here’s the dramatic full page of Tony’s EW ad…

 

And there’s another one floating around, with Tony sitting on a curb in Havana.

Anyway, TC, you win. Figuring out when No Res will air is a game for your ideal demographic — young males who think road trips to BBQ competitions contitute “travel.”

The Bourdains themselves now run a slick PR machine on Twitter @NoReservations and @OttaviaBourdain, and most of Tony’s friends and crew tweet. Tony regularly tweets pictures and links to articles about himself. Eater.com does regular posts about him, with his cooperation.

I feel as if Cats Working’s job is done.

Several years ago, I asked Tony for a Cats Working interview. He declined, saying he didn’t want to endorse a blog that discussed his personal life.

That was long before he embraced the blogosphere, Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr, but I’ve never seen him utter “Cats Working” to a soul unless he was talking to me.

I’ve grown wary of much of his hyperbole. I thought chef Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir, Blood, Bones & Butter, was spottily disingenuous and certainly not a book Tony should have wished he had written.

I just watched both seasons of Treme, the HBO series about post-Katrina New Orleans that Tony has called one of the greatest shows ever, if not the greatest. In Season 2, he wrote the scenes for the chef character, Janette, who moved to New York and worked for Bourdain’s network of BFFs: Colicchio, Ripert, and Chang. They all had cameos.

Bourdain was asked to write for Treme so those marginally relevant scenes would be authentic.

Here’s a news flash: Only the tiny fraction of the population who actually works in restaurants knows (or cares). And if they’re as poorly paid as Tony says, it’s unlikely they get HBO anyway.

Sad to say, I found Tony’s work kind of lifeless, except for the scene where Janette tosses a drink in Alan Richman’s face. Some of his dialog was even retread.

If Bourdain writes for Season 3, I’m taking a miss. Not because of him, but because too many of the characters have such terrible diction, I’ve spent, literally, hours watching scenes where I caught one word in 10 with the volume maxed out, and had no idea what was happening.

Ditto for Top Chef, where Tony sometimes guest-judges. Watching hard-working chefs sabotaged so their dishes can be pooh-poohed by nitpicking snobs is not my idea of entertainment. Host Tom Colicchio seems like a nice guy, but I’ll never take his opinion seriously until he sheds the bimbo sidekick, Padma.

I knew my disaffection was complete when saw that Tony’s getting a new Travel Channel series, 24-Hour Layovers, and thought, “Now they’re sweeping the cutting-room floor.”

But apparently not. Tony tweeted he went to Singapore and Hong Kong for new shows.

If TC ever actually airs it, I’ll watch, just to see if Tony & ZPZ really can put Samantha Brown to shame. Poor Samantha. She’s like TC’s Rodney Dangerfield.

From now on, I’m letting Tony do his own thing and expanding our horizons here. If there are any interesting Bourdain developments that he doesn’t totally scoop me on, I’ll share them. But you can better get the latest news straight from him — and tweet him directly @NoReservations.

Bourdain fans, I hope you’ll still stick around, but if you don’t, the cats and I thank you for stopping by.


Bourdainia Galore!

May 25, 2011

By Karen

I’m playing catch-up with DVDs of Treme, the HBO New Orleans series Anthony Bourdain has been writing for. After the first 2 episodes of Season 1, I’m still waiting to feel hooked, but I’m optimistic. Luckily, the Internet teems with video clips of the restaurant scenes Tony is doing for Season 2, which is airing now.

For example, here’s the scene of food critic Alan Richman taking a drink in the puss. Richman wrote about that later in GQ and actually seemed to be a good sport about it.

Tony also gave Tom Colicchio and Eric Ripert cameos with lines, and then Tom talked to Esquire about the experience.

A video of Tony speaking to HuffPost Food has been surfacing in pieces. He discussed which foods he’d like to see more of in the U.S. and modified his stance on bacon. He also talked about things he’ll never do — which we’ve already seen him do — and manages to lump Jay Leno in with strolling through steaming bat guano and being mounted by an Uzbek masseur.

In this video clip from PopEater, Tony talks about celebrities.

Last week, Bourdain was in Australia for the Sydney Writers’ Festival and did a video interview with MUmBRELLA where, among other things, he shared his thoughts on the value of Facebook and Twitter. 

At the Sydney festival, he appeared in a sold-out session on May 19 with AA Gill. Links to the full audio are under May 21 at 3 p.m., but they seem screwed up. Click “Download” to just listen.

If you don’t want to do that, Book Thingo provides a written recap and a snippet of illicit video taken from the audience.

Here’s a recap on another appearance Tony made at the festival called “Medium Raw,” which also sold out.

While rooting around for the festival stuff, I found a phone interview Tony did with ABC Sydney back in July 2010 that I don’t recall ever hearing.

On the literary front…

Bourdain will be a contributor to a new quarterly food journal, Lucky Peach, edited by David Chang and others, which debuts June 14. Each issue will have a theme, and the first one is ramen. According to the site, it’s the sister project to “an iPad app produced by Zero Point Zero that will feature more than two hours of videos, plus recipes, art, and essays.” Right now, the site is features a conversation on mediocrity among Bourdain, Chang, and Wylie Dufresne.

Tucson Weekly is critical of Bourdain’s involvement with Treme (2nd paragraph from the end). The writer seems to have an outdated image of Tony’s persona, but from the clips I’ve seen on Eater, I find myself relating somewhat to his unfoodie perspective. But that’s fodder for a future post.

I found this fascinating site on tumblr called Fuck Yes, Tony Bourdain! It’s devoted to photos, video clips, and quotes.

Finally, Travel Channel posted a video clip of Tony discussing his job with his adult niece, Isabelle.


Congratulations, Top Chef Richard Blais

March 31, 2011

By Karen

What a relief! The producers let Richard Blais and Mike Isabella cook without playing any childish sabotage games.

Well, almost. The kink of having them assemble potluck kitchen staffs from among the losers could have been disastrous. But neither of them got stuck with Marcel, and Mike caught Jamie on a day when she was in the mood to cook , so it worked out.

And Richard beat Mike fair and square, although there were moments I feared Mike’s that pepperoni sauce would top Richard’s grainy first batch of foie gras ice cream. Even though pepperoni sauce sounds more appealing to me than liver ice cream. Who in hell, besides cats, would want that? Especially as a dessert? Yeecchh!

As much as I’ve grown to loathe Tom and Padma, they did the right thing. Mike has had his moments, but Richard was obviously and more consistently superior in both innovation and execution.

In the after-show festivities, poor Fabio Viviani wasn’t chosen “Fan Favorite.” But if he had to lose to anybody, I’m glad it was Carla Hall. I can thank Fabio for my new Nutella addiction.

There’s still a reunion show to come, complete with an uncomfortable Real Housewives-like exchange between Colicchio and what’s-her-name, the first cheftestant out who told the press Colicchio’s a sell-out.

And over at America’s Next Great Restaurant, I’m still rooting for Joseph Galluzzi and his Saucy Balls, although his menu put him in the bottom 3 last week, and this week’s promos indicate he may jump the shark going gangster. But if he goes, so do I. I’m meh on the other concepts and judge Steve Ells’ nerdiness is starting to annoy me.


“Top Chef” Bottoms Out

March 29, 2011

By Karen

After 79 episodes, all that remains of this season’s Top Chef All-Stars is one more cook-off and a reunion. Can anybody remember the first dozen chefs? They must all be retired by now, driving everybody at “the home” crazy repeating glorious tales of the time they puréed peas on TV for “this really famous bald guy — not Brynner, not Savalas, aw, you know — he had this really tall girlfriend called Pardner.”

In last week’s faux finale, Antonia inevitably got the boot. Seriously, a woman was never going to win this. Stephanie Izard has been the lone female Top Chef since the show started, right?

If Top Chef demonstrates anything, it’s that celebrity chefdom is a boys’ club. Martha, Rachael, Giada, Ina, and Paula are mere tokens, too prissy, cute, sexy, or motherly to ever cut it in a real kitchen.

Mike benefited from the Quickfire challenge’s sadistic twists by getting to choose how Richard or Antonia would suffer. Predictably, Mike went after Antonia because he wants the final finale to be between men — him and Richard.

If Mike ever found a baby robin languishing on the sidewalk, he’d stomp it to death and laugh. Even when he’s crowing about being on top, Mike never lets self-confidence make him pass up an opportunity to do someone dirty. Gracious and fair aren’t in his vocabulary.

So Antonia had to cook with canned goods while physically tethered to Carla (in a cameo appearance) à la sack race, and Richard had to prepare hot dogs with one hand and overdid it with the ketchup.

Mike was limited only by having one pot and losing his utensils after his dish was essentially finished. And guess what? His prowess at shooting fish in a barrel won Mike the Quickfire.

The Elimination challenge involved preparing a “Last Supper” for 3 accomplished chefs. Max Silvestri at Eater shredded that absurd challenge name admirably, so I’ll let him have at it.

Even after Wolfgang Puck declared Richard made Wolfgang’s dead mother happy with his strudel, spaetzle, and goulash, Colicchio couldn’t resist an “It’s not hot enough” kvetch.

Antonia was supplied with rancid fish to serve Masaharu Morimoto, so she presented Plan B fish (tuna) beautifully in a bento box. Morimoto found her miso soup too salty, and Colicchio damned the whole meal as having “too much flavor.”

Too much flavor. Does he ever listen to himself? He single-handedly made “bland” a 4-letter word.

Mike lucked out again — in spades — with no-brainer fried chicken and biscuits for Michelle Bernstein (whoever she is). He wrapped an egg yoke in dough and called it the “biscuit,” and the coating fell right off his dried-out chicken.

Richard was pronounced safe, but Mike and Antonia were sent back to the kitchen to prepare “one last perfect, totally gratuitous bite” because clearly Mike’s food wasn’t supposed to be that much worse than Antonia’s.

So Mike produced a glob of lobster topped with raw beef. Comments ranged from, “the lobster didn’t ‘wow’ me,” to “the beef was bland,” his curry was “over-spiced,” and someone actually “despised” his olive-caramel sauce.

Antonia cooked grouper. Tom, who’d been wearing a look of pained constipation the entire episode, offered the only real criticism, calling the fish “very aggressively” spiced.

So naturally, Antonia had to lose because Mike has a penis.

For the finale, I’d love to see Mike and Richard cook their best in a well-equipped kitchen without spoiled ingredients so someone can win honorably. Fat chance of that.


Top Chef Finals Take a Nasty Turn

March 16, 2011

By Karen

Top Chef spared no expense to fly the last 5 all-stars to the fabulous Atlantis resort in Nassau in exchange for the privilege of misleading, sabotaging, endangering, and utterly exhausting them.

In the Quickfire, the cheftestants went head-to-head with the winners of their respective seasons, cooking outdoors in the sun (why?) on several nonworking burners. Carla couldn’t finish her rice, and Padma pounced on it as incisively as when she revealed to the nation that Target doesn’t sell coconuts.

For the Elimination, the chefs were told they were cooking for Bahamian royalty and logically assumed bluebloods would expect high-end fare. They planned accordingly with lamb and lobster and fantasized about working in a palatial kitchen for a change.

But the police escorted them to a nondescript fish restaurant where a bunch of nobodies in colorful costumes were dancing on the sidewalk. Ha, ha! “Royalty” was the “King of Junkanoo,” Bahamian Mardi Gras.

They had to cook in the restaurant’s cramped, ill-equipped kitchen, only to see 2 ½ hours of prep work go up in smoke — literally — when an unused deep fryer ignited. They evacuated while their food was marinated in fire-extinguishing chemicals.

With a shrugging “shit happens” attitude, Colicchio told them to go right back and start over from scratch. The show must go on.

They were tired, they’d had a bad scare, and they had to return to the same sucky kitchen. Any idiot could have predicted the results.

The judges must have still rankled from the excellent dishes served across the board the previous week because they were in full backlash, hunkered down in one of the restaurant’s booths like a bunch of mean girls. Eric Ripert even joined in, albeit with a few gratuitous swipes at fairness.

The only adult at that table turned out to be the King of Junkanoo.

At one point during the disappointing dinner, Gail and Padma wondered aloud if the chefs might be “a little disheartened” by the night’s events.

Let’s see… being flat-out lied to about the diners, having their food ruined in a senseless grease fire, consigned to cook in yet another craphole, or being forced to make their dishes twice?

Ya THINK?

If any judge dared to say anything even halfway complimentary, he or she was immediately drowned out with nitpicky bitching.

I have never wanted so badly to hit each of them upside the head with a skillet.

In the end, they hated EVERYTHING. The King of Junkanoo, who seemed to mostly like the food, must have felt like a total idiot.

Colicchio began the elimination by dismissively conceding the challenge was “tough,” but assured them the rest would be. Then he had the nerve to ask why they didn’t all rethink their dishes — once they realized they’d gotten a total screw job on who’d be eating them — while they were waiting to hear the outcome of the fire.

I’m sure Colicchio is a real prince in person, but if there were an Emmy for “TV’s Most Sadistic Prick,” he could win it (with stiff competition from Jillian Michaels on Biggest Loser).

To every chef’s credit, nobody blamed the the show’s obvious failure to prepare. That would have been unsportsmanslike. But it was open season for the judges to tear up food that miraculously came out as well as it did in spite of every effort to sabotage it.

Padma was offended by the sweet apple chip garnish on Carla’s pork. Gail was irate that her portion of Carla’s pork was raw, although that piece seemed to be a one-off. This was after Carla had tried in vain to deep-fry, then grill it BECAUSE THE KITCHEN DIDN’T HAVE A FUCKING OVEN.

Sweet potatoes put Carla’s dish over the top, and the judges’ unanimously damned it as “too much like a dessert.”

To hear them tell it, you’d think Carla slathered pork in chocolate ice cream and Nutella with Hershey’s sauce on top.

Tiffany also made pork. Ripert thought it should have been “more complex” and Gail found it “unmemorable.” Tif’s sides were dirty rice, curried slaw, and tomato jam. Ho-hum. THEM again?

Gail kvetched that Mike’s chicken was dry. Ripert thought Richard’s cannelloni was “too soft,” but it was another one-off complaint.

Antonia put pork in her polenta, which Gail said turned the pork into “mystery meat” like school cafeterias serve. (Spoken like a true mean girl.)

In the end, Mike’s dry chicken won and Carla went home for being too sweet.

I’ve revised my prediction for the final challenge. The remaining chefs will be presented with a larder stocked with rotting produce, decomposing meat, and bug-infested starches. Padma will purr, “Your final challenge, chefs, is to use these ingredients to prepare a dish that’s fresh, healthful, and delicious.”

I would love to see the final 3 get the last laugh by poisoning every judge just a little, even though Padma undoubtedly would relish the chance to puke off a few more pounds.


Bourdain to Curtail Road Trips

February 21, 2011

By Karen

Anthony Bourdain’s hard heart melts at his daughter Ariane’s tears whenever he leaves on yet another personal appearance marathon, so he’s severely curtailing his gigs in the future. I’ve only found 3 more through 2011, and 2 of those are with Eric Ripert.

It’s not that interest in Tony as a speaker is waning (although he plans to develop a lot of new material). Last night he sold out the 1,250-seat Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto, Calif. In fact, he broke the record for selling out faster and sooner than anybody, so Gallo held a video simulcast to the overflow crowd for the first time ever.

The rest of us have one more week until Season 7 of No Reservations begins in Haiti. Here’s Travel Channel’s promo clip.

To verify last week’s contention that Travel Channel is dissing Tony, last Friday night watching Ghost Adventures, I timed Bourdain and Zimmern’s commercials from 7:30 – 10 p.m. with a stopwatch. Here are the results:

Bourdain 4 spots 1:30
Zimmern 6 spots 3:00

Zimmern got one full-minute ad, Bourdain didn’t, and all but one of Zimmern’s ads were at least 30 seconds long. Overall, it felt like Zimmern was in my face all night.

Palm Springs Metromix got an interview with Tony before his February 19 Palm Desert appearance, and he mentioned the possibility of Zamir getting a spinoff series.

And last week Tony returned to judge Top Chef All-Stars

We need a new word for “ridiculous” after last week’s elimination challenge. The cheftestants were forced to raid a closed Target to assemble complete cooking workstations from store merchandise and prepare meals for 100 employees by 3 a.m.

Bourdain paid tribute to the utter absurdity of the situation by showing up in a sweater he picked up at Mr. Rogers’ estate sale.

In the end, Angelo went home for over-salting potato soup, after Dale skated by on the same offense the week before.

The rationale was that Dale’s saltiness was merely annoying, where Angelo’s was lethal. I think tastebuds were destroyed.

I’m not sticking up for Angelo. I never liked him and I was glad he went. But the judges took us one step closer to the no-time, no-food challenge so they can pick the winner based on what he/she might have cooked.

And then Padma got uncharacteristically feisty when Mike mistakenly asserted his soup contained “fresh coconut milk.” She repeated, “Fresh?” as if everybody knows you can’t get fresh tropical produce at Target.

Gee, Padma, maybe Mike was a tad confused after running a marathon all night on no sleep, feeding an army with crappy portable appliances on a folding table. He’d have spent all his time draining coconuts if he could have.

Padma’s misplaced aggression probably arose from the sting of Sesame Street Muppet Elmo’s “TMI!” when she tried to tell him where cinnamon and cardamom come from.

But the night’s true douche moment was Colicchio and Bourdain’s reaction to learning Tiffany used creole seasoning in her jambalaya.

“You used a PREPARED seasoning?” A spice BLEND? From a JAR?”

Oh, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! The unspeakable horror… dried herbs. Mixed TOGETHER!

McCormick, Mrs. Dash, and Emeril, there’s a special corner in hell waiting just for you.

Tony, back from his “overseas hiatus” in Pennsylvania, blogged for Bravo about Angelo’s downfall.

Later, defending the judges’ decisions in a post-show interview with Entertainment Weekly’s PopWatch, Bourdain heaped praise on Colicchio, lest anyone forget he’s an American treasure…

“Tom Colicchio is a giant of the industry. He changed the world of cooking…. He’s a one man Rushmore.”

Now, readers, raise your hand if you’d ever heard of Tom Colicchio before Top Chef, and name one thing he’s said or done that has changed the way you cook.

Just one…

Coming up empty? Me, too. This is the sort of cliquish foodie-with-head-up-ass statement that makes people like B.R. Myers write nasty things about foodies.

To top it off, Eric Ripert tweeted that he’s never been in Target, and wonders how someone could even prepare Top Chef-worthy cuisine from ingredients purchased there. Take that, Middle America. I wonder if Ripert has Target confused with 7-Eleven?

In Top Chef recaps…

BestWeekEverTV did it with great illustrations.

And Max Silvestri at Eater was hilarious, as always.

We end on some disappointing news…

Tony blogged that his new graphic novel, Get Jiro, is looking great, but publication has been pushed off to some time in 2012. No reason given.


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